Message to the Churches: Laodicea

Revelation 3.14-22

The church at Laodicea is a mess. The best thing Jesus has to say about them is, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline…” Like Sardis, the church in Laodicea has a much higher opinion of themselves than Jesus does. And the discrepancy is shockingly great.

If the problem in the church of Sardis is spiritual lethargy…spiritual laziness. Being comfortable Christians. The problem in the church of Laodicea is self-sufficiency. They have everything they need, so they no longer recognize their need for Jesus resulting in rotten fruit and worthless works.

Like the church in Sardis, there is no mention of persecution at the church in Laodicea. And like Sardis a lack of persecution, a lack of suffering for their faith, a lack of tribulation is their biggest problem. They mistook physical wealth for spiritual blessing, a comfortable life for God’s favor. They saw self-sufficiency as a virtue. But persecution…that’s the blessing. Suffering for our faith…that’s the blessing. Tribulation…you got it. Because we are never more like Jesus than when we suffer for Him and suffer with Him.

Needless to say, the church of Laodicea is uncomfortably similar to the church in America today. Not everyone’s guilty, but it is an American virtue. Another name for the American dream…bigger barn building, being a self-made man or woman, independence, no one can tell us what to do, etc.

So what do we do? Start working on our heavenly bank account and stop worrying about our earthly one. Walk in the good works that God has prepared for us to do. Ask Jesus to reveal the areas of our lives where we have shut Him out, and by all means, invite Him back in! Don’t give up, don’t give in…Jesus wins.

That’s a wrap on the churches. We’ve seen some bright spots here and there, but for the most part the “C” Church on earth is a mess. Nothing like the throne room we will see in heaven next week.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Revelation series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Message to the Churches: Thyatira

Revelation 2.18-29

The church at Thyatira is great at love…and seems to get better all the time. Their problem is the opposite of the church at Ephesus. Remember the church at Ephesus was good at Truth. They put the false apostles to the test. Not so the church at Thyatira. They follow the teaching of the self-proclaimed prophetess, Jezebel. They may be good at Love, but they stink at Truth. And Love without Truth is as bad as Truth without Love. 

Like the church at Pergamum, the church at Thyatira’s big temptation is to give in. It’s to compromise. And the pressure here seems to be somewhat economically motivated. To “succeed” in society, you had to be part of the guild, and to be a part of the guild, you had to be a part of the…guild. You had to offer the sacrifices and participate in all the extracurricular activities. You had to fit in if you are going to fit in and even get ahead.

That’s probably one of the biggest temptations for us these days. Need to fit in. We do what’s necessary because “it’s just business”. No matter how questionable or immoral it may be. It’s no big deal, right? Everybody’s doing it…

But actions have consequences. And Jesus takes sin seriously. So when we minimize or trivialize it…watch out! Or like the folks in Thyatira, we may find out how quickly we’ll be called to account.

Instead let’s hold fast…let’s not give in. Let’s remember that Jesus wins.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Revelation series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Second Chances

John 21.15-25

This particular story is unique to John. So why does he include it? In verse 14, John reminds us that this is the third time that Jesus has made Himself known to the disciples. The two previous times that Jesus showed up, He had a purpose in mind, right? Calming the fears and commissioning a group of the disciples, breathing on them the Holy Spirit and giving them life; and then a special encore presentation for Thomas. This episode also has a very focused purpose…the restoration of Peter. You see, after his denial, we as the readers are left wondering, “So whatever happened to Peter?”

Peter had blatantly denied and turned his back on Jesus. There was no getting around it. After all of the boasting, after all of the posturing, in the end he had failed miserably. And all of his closest friends knew it. Fear might have been involved, although given Peter’s boldness in confronting the soldiers that seems less likely. Frustration? Probably. Doubts? Sure. But Peter was supposed to be their fearless leader. Would he ever be useful again?

And now, miraculously Peter is given a second chance. Jesus shows up and takes him aside, and with the reminder of both his failure and his calling in mind, he’s given another opportunity to follow Jesus. But following Him this go round would not end well from an earthly standpoint. It would involve a cross. Given the last three years…knowing all that he had been through and would yet go through, would he still sign up? Knowing that the journey would be a lonely one, with no guarantees that anyone else would accompany him, would he still follow Jesus? Would you?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember a time I verbally denied Jesus. I can, though, remember plenty of times that I denied Him by my actions. It reminds me of my high school and college years. I had trusted in Jesus and even felt like He was calling me into ministry, but I was unwilling to give up the life I was pursuing at the time. I was afraid I might miss out on something, but it was just leading to greater heartache, shame, frustration, guilt, etc. It wasn’t “life”…not anything like the abundant life that Jesus talked about last week. But of course I wasn’t walking in obedience either. I wasn’t spending time in His Word or prayer, wasn’t spending time with other believers, really didn’t feel like I had much of a story to share. I wasn’t abiding and so for sure wasn’t bearing fruit. I was denying Jesus with all but my words. And yet He was so gracious and just kept pursuing me, until one day I came to the “aha” moment, and I stopped running from Him and started pursuing Him…and said “yes” to His “Follow Me.”

But what about you? How have you blown it? Have you come out the other side? What does life look like? What have you learned from it? How is it causing you to trust God more? The encouraging thing for me from Peter’s story is that Jesus makes a special trip to offer him his second chance. And not only a second chance, but also a bright new future chock full of opportunity to continue to pursue Jesus…and to fail, but also to change the world. He and this rag-tag group of Jesus-followers will take the Roman world by storm…not leading a military campaign, but waging spiritual warfare nonetheless. We are here today because of a guy like Peter.

It strikes me that Peter’s story would likely have had a very different ending had I been the one whom he had denied. And for some of us, we are in the position of being the betrayed. If that’s you, have you restored the one who failed you? Have you forgiven them? Any second chances? Would you trust them with an even greater level of responsibility? Or would you do what I can be so quick to do, and write them off?

Peter’s story is challenging: Do we believe that Jesus still can and wants to use us, no matter our failures? Are we willing to follow Him, no matter the cost? Will we forgive and restore others when they fail us?

My prayer is that you realize Jesus’ deep and abiding love for you, that you rest in His amazing grace, and that you show that same grace toward others this week.

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This post is based on a sermon from our John series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Abiding in the Vine

John 15.1-17

Discipleship is all about abiding in the Vine. But to do that we have to stay connected to Jesus. We have to rely on Jesus. We have to follow Jesus. And we have to obey Jesus.

There’s an old hymn that says, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.” Must have spent some time in this passage. Obedience is not a popular word. From the time we were kids, we have wanted our independence. We like freedom. We don’t like folks telling us what to do. Let me make my own decisions. Let me decide for myself what’s best. I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like what got us in trouble in the first place…in the garden. Not trusting God, but trusting ourselves.

Obedience in the Christian life is not the oppressive bowing to the will of a tyrant. I think sometimes that’s the image we get when we hear the word. But it’s joyfully doing what our Father says, knowing that He loves us and wants what’s best for us. Sometimes that will involve pruning. But it is always for our good.

One last thought…fruit bearing is a direct result of abiding. We were saved for a purpose…that we would live lives that point others to Jesus. That we would share our story and reflect His character to a watching world. If you want to live the abundant life, you’ve got to abide in the Vine.

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This post is based on a sermon from our John series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Word

John 1.1-18

In these opening verses, John unmistakably presents Jesus as more than a Man…He was with God and He was God. Like I said earlier, it’s our Trinitarian concept of God…one God in three Persons. God the Father. God the Son. And as we will see soon enough, God the Holy Spirit. Not easy to grasp but foundational to our faith.

Not only does John present Jesus as more than a Man…He is also a Man. The Word became flesh. He didn’t give up His God-ness to become a Man, but somehow clothed His divinity in humanity. Again, not something that is easy to understand but also foundational to our faith.

John wants us to know Jesus…fully God because only God can forgive sins. Fully Man because only a Man could die for sin. The perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…if you have not yet trusted in Jesus, make today the day!

pro rege,

This post is based on a sermon from our John series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Let Love Be Your Outstanding Debt

Romans 13.8-14

Owe nothing except the debt to love.

I wonder what it would look like if we took that challenge seriously. If the first thought we had when we saw someone is, “How can I love them?” Or “What would love look like in this situation?” Kind of a scary thought, huh? It would no doubt raise a few eyebrows and would certainly be countercultural. But there would also be no mistaking who we are and whose we are.

A few weeks ago, Scott said his word for the year is intentional. That comes to mind with this passage. In order to live out our faith and to live like Jesus could come back at any time, we have to be intentional. Intentional in renewing our minds through time spent in God’s Word and God’s Word spending time in us. Intentional about prayer…seeing it not just as a luxury when I can get to it, but a vital part of our day throughout the day. Intentional about time with other believers…are you in a community group? Intentional about living a generous life (Who can I bless? What needs can I meet?). Intentional about sharing our story. Intentional about investing our mina…our life…for maximum kingdom impact.

Back to the parable of the nobleman from Luke 19. Those who know the King and are living intentionally for the kingdom are anxious for His return. They can’t wait to share with Him stories of how they’ve invested the mina He entrusted to them and rejoice with Him in the impact it’s made. They are living today in light of eternity. Is that you?

If not, what is it you need to put aside…how are you conforming to this world? What compromises are you making? What needs to change in your daily/weekly routine? What relationships do you need to reevaluate? What intentional step can you take this week?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Romans series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Renewed Thinking

Romans 12.3-21

Renewed thinking allows us to see the world from a very different perspective than those around us. It causes us to think rightly about who we are and how we fit within the church. And it’s the catalyst for us to live and love like Jesus.

Renewed thinking comes from a renewed mind…a mind that has been transformed by God’s Word. As we spend more time in God’s Word and allow God’s Word to spend more time in us, the Spirit uses the Word to renew our minds and transform us to live and love like Jesus. We begin to see the world more and more through His eyes. We begin to want what He wants. We begin to love like He loves. We begin to live out our role as ambassadors for His kingdom. And so come what may…good times or bad, blessing or cursing, feast or famine, tribulation or persecution or suffering of any kind…we can rejoice. We have hope. We trust God. And we see that His will for us is perfect…good, acceptable and perfect.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Romans series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind

Romans 12.1-2

We all have things in our lives that are stumbling blocks to us following Jesus…those sticky points that can cause us to be spiritually stuck. Ways that we are conforming to the world around us. But as we spend more time in God’s Word and allow God’s Word to spend more time in us, the Spirit uses the Word to renew our minds and transform us to live and love like Jesus. We begin to see the world more and more through His eyes. We begin to want what He wants. We see that His will for us is perfect. And then offering the whole of ourselves to Him just makes sense. It’s the only reasonable thing to do.

Every moment of every day we make choices that either lead us to being conformed to this world or transformed to live and love like Jesus. What choices are you making? Is your mind being renewed, or is it being assimilated into the culture? Depends on what you’re feeding it, right? Either the Truth of God’s Word or the lies of the enemy. In Romans 6.12-14, Paul said, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

God used this passage in Romans to pry me loose from the spiritual quicksand that I found myself in a few years ago. Every now and again I have a tendency to wander towards the sandtrap…part of being a new creation in a fallen world I suppose, but as I’ve made the effort with God’s help to pursue Jesus a lifestyle rather than an experiment…training vs. trying…, and as I’ve surrounded myself with other believers who are doing the same, I don’t find myself getting stuck quite as often. My prayer is that God will do the same for you.

pro rege,

This post is based on a sermon from our Romans series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Consistent Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 reminds us of who God is. So when we come to Him in prayer, we can thank Him for taking care of us…leading and guiding us, directing us, providing for our needs, protecting us, His presence with us.

We can have confidence in our everyday life with God when it sinks in that He really is for us. No matter what our circumstances may be…no matter what our enemies may say…God is greater. He is greater than anyone or anything. So if we really believe that…if we really believe that God is greater, if we believe that He is committed to our good, if we believe that He is pursuing us and that He is fierce in His love for us…like Paul says in Romans 8…that nothing can separate us from His love, we too can face the darkest valleys with unflinching courage knowing that our Shepherd is there with us. In fact He’s gone before us and is showing us the way if we will only follow… And if God is for us, who or what can stand against us? That is our confidence in prayer.

When I was a new believer, I didn’t really know how to pray or what to pray for. In fact, I struggled with prayer for years…because I didn’t know what to say and my prayers always seemed to be the same. I figured that until I had something new to tell God or something new to ask from Him, we were good. I wouldn’t have said it out loud, but my attitude toward God in prayer was I ask and You give. I should apologize when I mess up, but I mess up a lot…and let’s be honest, most of my mess ups are the same. That way of thinking crippled my prayer life for years.

It really wasn’t until I graduated from seminary and landed my first job in ministry that I felt like I learned to pray. I was preparing to teach a class on the spiritual life, and I realized that I had no idea what I would say about it. I was spending time in the Word. I was spending time with other believers. But I wasn’t really spending time in prayer, and I felt kind of far from God. And so I went on a quest to find out what the spiritual life, what the abundant life, was all about. Prayer was a huge part of that.

The more I read about prayer and intentionally began to practice praying, the more I enjoyed it. And the more easily it came. I started with praying Scripture. I would use the language that the Bible used when I talked to God. I asked Him for the things that the Bible said He wanted for me…to be more like Jesus. I began to pray the Bible for my family and friends. And I freed myself up from whatever preconceived expectations I might have had about what prayer was supposed to be.

One of the books that I read on prayer was by a monk named Brother Lawerence called Practicing the Presence of God. What a great book! His goal was to figure out how to pray without ceasing. If the Bible calls us to that, surely there must be a way. Anyway, that book helped me see that prayer can happen at anytime…when I’m walking in the mornings (because the gym’s closed), when I’m driving my car (eyes open please!), when sitting in my office or wherever I am. I am always in God’s presence. Prayer reminds me of that. It also redeems the mundane moments in my life. I like what a guy named William Law said about it…“He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.” (William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection[1726], London: W. Baynes, 1807, p. 290)

Someone asked me, is prayer for us or for God? What an interesting question, isn’t it? When you have a conversation with your spouse or your kids, with your parents, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbor…face-to-face, on the phone, by text, or even by zoom…who is the conversation for? When we pray, we share our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, our failures…our lives with our Father who cares about all of those things, our Shepherd who walks with us, leading and guiding us through both the good and bad times, if we will let Him. It’s not that He needs us to tell Him those things…He already knows, but we need to tell Him.

But what if prayer doesn’t work? Still sick. Still in pain. Loved one still hasn’t accepted Jesus. Another interesting question. God is not a DVM…Divine Vending Machine. He’s a Person. Better yet He’s our Father. We won’t always know the why of the things that happen to us…we live in a fallen world where my sin and/or the sin of others and/or the cosmic effects of the fall can combine to create some pretty nasty circumstances…but if we believe that the LORD is our Shepherd…then we know that He is leading us through the darkest valleys, never leaving us alone, but seeing us through to green pastures and quiet waters. And as Paul says in Romans 8, somehow and in someway He’s working it together for our good.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God for? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they’re the same questions I’ve asked at some point on my spiritual journey. I do think the things we ask God for are important, but primarily for this reason…they reveal where we are with Him, where we are on our spiritual journey. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. He wants to transform us to live and love like Jesus. The more we grow spiritually, the more we will want the same things He does. The details of our circumstances begin to become less important…it’s how can I best represent Jesus in this particular circumstance. That takes time and consistent time spent in prayer just talking to your Father. Both that and time spent in His Word…

Two last words…first, while personal time in prayer is super important, pro tip…time in prayer with other believers leads to even greater gains. It’s in prayer that we can lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens, rejoice and weep together…share our hopes and dreams, doubts and fears with each other. A community group or small group is a great avenue for that.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is another great way to lead your families. Maybe share prayer requests/concerns/praises at the dinner table. Spend some time praying for each other. Doesn’t have to be long. Find time to pray with your wife. Fiercely pursue and protect the oneness that God calls you to as a couple.

(A couple of resources that you might find helpful…ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), prayer guides on YouVersion/bible.com, Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer (praying scripture), Psalms as prayers.)

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Daily Devotion

Hebrews 5.11-14

Paul says it this way in Romans 12.2, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” By spending quality time in God’s Word every day, the Spirit takes the truth that we have read and begins to transform us, so that whatever the situation, we can discern what it is that God would have us do.

There is no such thing as pause or neutral in life. We are either growing or not, progressing or regressing. We can train our bodies…we can go to the gym, we can eat right, etc., and we will see progress. We will get stronger, faster, more agile. But if you skip going to the gym for a time, or running or riding your bike, or whatever your exercise of choice, you will quickly find out how much you’ve lost. The same is true intellectually. If we stop learning, our brains begin to shrink. Emotionally, if we withdraw from people, we lose the ability to relate. I think we’ve all experienced those things over the last several months in lockdown. If we don’t use it, we lose it. The same is true spiritually…if we are not growing spiritually then we are shrinking. We are moving backward. We are losing whatever ground we may at one time have gained.

So, if you suspect that might be you…that you might be a spiritual “infant”…how do you begin your path to maturity? Start training today with a simple Bible reading plan. For those of you who have trained physically for anything…sport, music, hobby, school…you know that you have to build up to your goal. Big gains are possible, but it’s gradual…slow and steady. Think tortoise and not hare. Training, not trying. If you are trying, then you may be tempted to give up when you fail. But the beauty of training is that failure is built into the process. So take the long view. Try, fail, try again, fail better, and repeat…

Where to start reading? What do you like to read? Do you like poetry? Start with Psalms. Do you like wisdom literature, pithy sayings? Then, Proverbs. Action? Genesis or 1 Samuel or Mark. But read the Bible and not just about the Bible. What I mean by that is…many folks read devotional books and count that as their Bible time. Devotional books are great, but don’t let them replace your Bible. Pick a book and start. Work your way up to the heavier books like Isaiah or Ezekiel or Romans or Revelation. Pray before you start that God will help you put into practice what you’re learning. And if you miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up, just start again.

Two last words, both are applicable to every one of the five marks of a disciple…first, while personal time in the Word is super important, pro tip…time in the Word with other believers leads to even greater gains. The Bible was written to a community of believers and that’s how it’s best understood and applied. If you are not a part of a community group but would like to be, we have a number of groups starting this fall. You can connect right now through the online chat on our website. Just go to centralchristian.org and click on the chat box near the bottom of the page and you’ll be connected to a host right away.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is a great opportunity for you to begin to lead your families. Share with your wife and your kids what God is teaching you through His Word, and encourage them to do the same. Maybe read a Proverb a day together…

Let’s press on to maturity then, spending quality time daily in God’s Word, training our senses to discern good and evil so that we might live and love like Jesus.

pro rege

This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster